The world is in upheaval as the murder of George Floyd continues to spark outrage against racial prejudice, and systemic, state and institution-reinforced oppression. For many of the beneficiaries of oppression, however, it is simply hating from outside the club.
It is easy to be scolding in the face of offense, ignorance, or when in the throes of trauma. Great change and, by the same measure, great progress, does not spring from the easy. Change will not manifest if we are silent, passive, or comfortable. And history may record 2020 as a year in which silence was no longer golden. In the eyes of the oppressed and disadvantaged, it raises suspicion and evinces indifference or complicity. Hold on; I’ll get there.
“In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends” — Martin Luther King, Jr., The Trumpet of Conscience, Steeler Lecture, November 1967
The converse of silence may just not be loud, public utterances. There is room for creative expression of support and activism.
Timeless words are my favourites, as they traverse across time and space, to always remain relevant, instructive, and thought provoking. But these are not merely words spoken by a great man just five months before his assassination at the hands of white supremacist and all around purveyor of hate, James Earl Ray; they are a rallying cry from oppressed to ally in the hour of need.
What of privilege?
I gave it a few thoughts — a few serious thoughts. In a time where one incident sparks a concert of cries and a war against discrimination, inequality, ignorance, hate, and injustice, the oppressor becomes acutely threatened. His privilege that was so carefully cultivated by his predecessors through law, war, betrayal, and hijacking of sacred texts might be eradicated. Damn it. It nah go so; because now it calls into question all he’s held dear. It raises suspicion about the obvious greatness and superiority which enabled him to amass the wealth, sail the yachts, woo the beautiful women, and flaunt the cars and other symbols our society has determined to define status and importance.
Black people and other people of colour, women, colonised countries, enslaved peoples, and the lower classes, are hating from outside the club to many of those who aren’t allies. This realisation was a heart jolting one to arrive at, but peering into divisive, contentious issues from the perspective of the prohibitive favourite will shock those who were never able to live the dream.
Oppression doesn’t exist: A memo nobody asked for. In a modern and inclusive society, we are born equal.
The patriarchy is a lie. Women place themselves into vulnerable positions, have equal opportunity, and should really look within before casting blame on an inequitable system men designed and socialised successive generations of men and women to reinforce. Men were ordained to be leaders, according to the Bible. So the Holy Book for Christians says. The book goes on to say we were also meant to be protectors, but so many only protect their egos.
White (or light) privilege? Nut’n no go so. Stop the jealousy, man. How you hating and you can’t even get in the club? No more audacious a line of reasoning throughout this entire great awokening than that of the ruling class being positioned as victims, in a post-colonial society, no less.
Work hard, follow the rules, and stop being so damned unruly. It’s the mantra used by those propped up by an unjustly instituted, systemically upheld upper hand have urged others to recite. I, having come from humble beginnings nearby the still-feared Spanish Town, Jamaica, should work till my hands bleed or brain winces and play by the rules, ones that typically make certain you are shafted, so that I may enter the elusive and exclusive club someday. And I had it decent, so imagine.
When injustice is this ingrained and becomes part of a cultural identity, being a silent ally is never enough. Not being racist isn’t enough. Nothing less than a dislike for racism and racists can suffice. They must feel it to understand our collective disgust at a high enough pitch as to force evolution. Merely being neither a practitioner of misogyny nor misandry, brother and byproduct of the patriarchy, respectively, is as useful as abstaining from voting for or against a dictatorial head of state or corrupt government. Staying silent, or at the very least, seeking healing for the violated, when you know of instances of sexual abuse, carried out against humans of any gender, enables it to flourish. Just as they take silence for verification and consent, your silence and cover-up is seen as complicity by those tending to their wounds.
It’s not for me to scold, or to pretend I don’t have much to learn, as we all do for the duration of our lives on this earth. Instead, this is a time to “plot, plan, strategize, organize and mobilize”, in the words of Michael ‘Killer Mike’ Render, so that, now everyone is forced to listen, the push for a muting and suppression of injustices is effective and long lasting.
Remove the masks (metaphorically, of course).
Love in this club
No longer can it be enough to be a passive ally or silent partner. For a man such as myself, in gender relations, it has to take shape by holding myself to the highest of standards, as well as my bredrin dem. For anyone upholding the “you asked for it because you dressed that way or were in their path” defense mechanism, unu inna trouble eno. Acknowledge the unfairness of inequality; endeavour to do better; and make it a requirement for everyone around you to do and be better. Thoughts and prayers are lovely, but we aren’t going to think and pray away any of it.
The difficult conversations must be had. Social media is meant to be…social, and act as a real time vehicle for discourse, learning, growth, and change.
No significant change was ever achieved without a protest against the status quo. Those in the possession of the key to the city didn’t one day get tired of power and decide that it’s now enough. Slave rebellions, riots, and entire revolutions have been required to spark lasting change. And then they spoke. There has been recent rebellion, shaming, and protestation. Now is the time to speak, and recruit allies and engender harmony, while the world has turned all the listening devices on. Those in positions of power must understand and be made to understand. In pursuit of this understanding, confronting and shaming those still at a deficit of understanding has been shown to invite considerable push-back for they still hold power and will do anything to deny the existence of the very thing you fight against. Strategy requires craft and the craft has to be inclusive, almost educating as you would a baby where necessary, while avoiding condescension. The world can never be the same; and as much as centuries of turning a blind eye to inhumanity cannot be eradicated in one swoop, rest assured that the cries will not fall on deaf ears.
And to those hanging on to power with all their might while performing acts of support, while denying the existence of such power, for an audience for the purposes of hiding behind a solidarity cloak:
“Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself” — Count Lev Nikolayevich Tolstoy
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. Laws of nature and that. If you push, someone will pull. We do not hate those in the club. We hate what the club stands for and why it was built as it divides those inside and those that are outside. The wages of sin is death, and evidently, the wages of indifference and vehement denials of privilege is allowing abhorrent injustices to thrive.
Viva la revolución!